Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder―sadly, these words have become everyday concepts in our hectic, stressful twenty-first century lives.
The irony of the situation, the fact that we have to keep functioning in a world that is obviously not good for our mental health, has given rise to another term, the ‘emotional support animal’ or ESA.
You have probably heard of ESAs before, and any crazy cat lady can one hundred percent relate―cats are actually magic and can absorb your pain (fact scientifically proven and verified by me, a registered crazy cat lady). Dogs, obviously, are man’s best friend and have been helping us overcome disabilities (blindness, trauma, getting lost in remote places, etc.) forever―you don’t have to be crazy to verify that. So, it stands to reason that pets like these could be really effectual when dealing with the mental health issues that our lives have left us burdened with.
But if you are thinking that ESAs are limited to cute kittens and lap puppies, you are quite mistaken. Ever heard of Daniel Turducken Stinkerbutt? He’s a duck, and he’s an internet sensation, and he’s an ESA. And he’s by no means the weirdest animal to be afforded that handle. According to the very informative BP Magazine, people have (not can have but do have) peacocks, kangaroos, pigs, and even snakes as ESAs. In fact, as far as I can tell, there is no regulation stipulating which species of animals are suitable ESA and which are not. Which makes sense. Unlike a service animal, an ESA does not require any specialist training and is basically an animal that you have an emotional connection with. So if you are drawn to emotionally connect with a snake, or you feel calmer when a certain alligator is nearby, I guess that is your karma―and good luck to you if want to take your support pet with you on a flight, or live with them in a university dorm or in a pet-free tenement.
It is due to the increasing need for ESAs on flights, in college accommodation, and in rental properties that these weird support animals are getting into the media―and the courts. It seems that there is very little legislation when it comes to ESAs, unlike service animals―which the American Disabilities Association has (with a stroke of common-sense genius) limited to dogs and very small horses. This has led to all sorts of interesting and complicated situations, which I am sure have done no favours for the mental health of the owners of said ESAs, whose doctors have certified that it is necessary for them to live with a squirrel or travel with a peacock.
It’s not that I have a problem with people having ESAs and traveling and living with them; as someone who suffers from anxiety, I would love to have a cat to share it with (I actually think I’m crazy at the moment because I don’t currently have a cat). I just wonder how it is you come to realise that you have a special affinity with a certain turkey and that this bird is going to help you get through the darker days.
Do you have an ESA? We’d love to hear from you at the DARling. The weirder, the wonderfuller―because life is better with animals, and we don’t just mean cats and dogs.
Words: Sharnon Mentor-King
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About the author
Sharnon Mentor-King is a freelance writer and editor from New Zealand, currently living and writing in Dharamsala in northern India. As well as being a crazy catless lady, she also writes bad poetry and excellent young adult fantasy. She has been working on her first novel, A Way to Return, for nearly half her life, and has just finished it. It is currently with her wonderful editor, Jane Perkins, and if she can get it cut down to a reasonable word-count, it will be a miracle. Let us pray.